For the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers, the team’s level of success will lie on an old adage that at its core prevails truth — that defense wins championships.
The defensive side of the court for the Lakers was an issue for the team last season as they were ranked 22nd in the league in points allowed per game at 101.o, 14th with .453 opponent field goal percentage, 14th with .357 opponent 3-point field goal percent, 29th in forcing opponent turnovers at 12.4 per game, and were 25th in steals with 7.0 per game.
It appears so far in training camp that head coach Mike D’Antoni has made it a priority to emphasize defense and his players have discussed the importance of defense to team’s success.
“Defense has been and it will be a priority if we want to be competitive and win the majority of the games,” said Pau Gasol after Wednesday’s practice. “So, that has to be a focus for us. We can’t rely on our offense to bail us out and get us wins. Defense is what’s going to make us consistent and what’s going to make us beat good teams.”
D’Antoni throughout his career has been known as an offensive-minded coach and in the past has been criticized in the past for not putting as much of a focus on the team’s defense. This year, he looks like he is making it a point to improve the Lakers’ defense by practicing defense more in training camp.
“I would say 99.9 (percent) on defense and 0.1 on offense,” D’Antoni said on Wednesday after practice. “Does that satisfy you guys?”
It may be a sarcastic statement by D’Antoni, but he has placed a bigger emphasis on defense by bringing in assistants like Kurt Rambis as an assistant coach, who had the responsibility of handling the team’s defense when he coached under Phil Jackson. The team has also brought in young players such as Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry to help add athleticism, versatility and quickness to the defensive end of the court.
D’Antoni knows that defense is the key to team’s success because the team should have more fluidity with an offense centered around Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, who ran D’Antoni’s system during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns. The offense in essence should take care of itself with a roster more suitable to what D’Antoni is looking for with shooters to spread the floor and versatile players who can play multiple positions and allow him to play more small-ball lineup as he did in Phoenix and New York.
With that said, defense is a priority for this team under D’Antoni and he knows that it must improve in order for the team to have any success this upcoming season.
“We’ll try to add something each day and get our drills down, but you mostly learn to play and we play a lot,” D’Antoni said. “When you play a lot, hopefully we’re working on our defense all the time.”
In close games or in games against good teams, the ability to get critical stops will be the key to the Lakers’ ultimate success; with an emphasis on that end of the floor in training camp so far it may be sign for good things to come.
Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Bob Garcia IV
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